Parallel Trade? Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

  • by: |
  • 02/19/2008
At a recent London policy conference on parallel trade, Heinz Kobelt (Secretary General of the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies – EAEPC) discussed his association’s credo of “know your customer.” This was during a discussion of how parallel trade can actually help to enhance drug safety and security. (More on that absurd canard in a moment.)

But, during the ensuing Q&A it turns out that “know your customer” actually means “don’t ask/don’t tell” when it comes to one of their most important and largest category of customers – wholesalers, specifically those shady entrepreneurs who go beyond legal EU parallel trade into the clearly illegal realm of marketing non-approved drugs to North America.

Case in point: Rimonabant.

Licensed and legally marketed in the EU under the brand name “Acomplia,” this medicine is not approved for use in the United States. But type “Acomplia” into any US search engine and you’ll find no shortage of Canadian internet pharmacies ready, willing, and able to sell it to any American with a credit card.

How is this possible? Because these pharmacies are buying their supplies from European wholesalers – wholesalers who are getting their supplies (legally) from within the EU and then selling them (illegally) outside the confines of the Treaty of Rome.

When confronted with this shady behavior, Mr. Kobelt was at a loss for words, finally saying that it was an issue that should be brought up with the wholesalers.

Heinz – you can’t have 57 flavors of “know your customer,” choosing to "know them" only when it's convenient is a policy that is neither sound nor honest.

As to parallel trade enhancing safety and security, here’s how Heinz spins that one.

During his presentation he pointed out (correctly) that the recent spate of counterfeit drugs that had infiltrated legitimate UK pharmacies had been discovered by a parallel trader. And that’s true. But what he didn’t mention is that those same products had already passed through three other parallel traders without being found.

Some victory for drug safety and parallel trade.

Something else that Heinz didn’t share was that, when the parallel trader found the counterfeits, rather than calling the UK authorities as required (the MHRA in this instance), he called the company whose drug had been counterfeited – so that he could get his supplies replaced.

Parallel trade and altruistic commitment to drug safety? Sure.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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